In an interesting historical tidbit, last week the Guardian in the United Kingdom published an interview of Martin Goetz. Goetz is the person awarded the first software patent back in 1968. In a prescient bit of headline writing, Computerworld had the following headline on its grant:
In the Guardian piece, Goetz comes out hard against some of the problems in the software patent system, calling it “a big mess”. Goetz specifically goes after two infamous patents: Amazon’s “1-click” and Apple’s “pinch-to-zoom”:
[H]e acknowledges that the whole field has become “very controversial”. He thinks that Amazon’s One-Click patent – valid in the US but repeatedly turned down in the European Union – “should never have been awarded”, and that Apple’s pinch-and-zoom patent for enlarging or shrinking content displayed on its iOS devices is “questionable” on the basis that it might be thought “obvious”.
Kudos to Goetz for speaking out against some of the abuses in a system that he helped create. He had spoken out in the past in defense of software patents and it is important to have a strong supporter of the system highlighting flaws that need to be fixed, especially the grant of “obvious” patents.
Additionally, our own Brian Kahin was quoted in an update at the end of the article with some history. First he noted that:
There is considerable irony is Goetz’s account. Indeed, IBM was opposed to software patents until the antitrust suit against the company was dismissed (after 13 years). Software patents were not common because the US Supreme Court had issued opinions that said that mathematical algorithms were not patentable on their own.
Brian later added:
IBM then started shaking down Silicon Valley. Eventually, other software companies acquired their own portfolios and learned to like them because they protected market positions against new entrants.
Check out the Guardian piece for more information and Brian’s full quote, and also a short film on Goetz on PBS Digital Studio’s Inventor Series.